Psalm 133: Unity Like Oil and Dew

Psalm 133 is a beautiful passage of scripture. It’s always been one that puzzles me, though. I like metaphor and poetic imagery, but I’m not sure what we’re supposed to learn from the analogy used in this psalm. It’s short, so I’ll quote the whole thing here:

Look! How good and how pleasant it is
when brothers truly live in unity.
It is like fine oil poured on the head,
which flows down the beard—
Aaron’s beard,
and then flows down his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which flows down upon the hills of Zion.
Indeed, that is where the Lord has decreed
a blessing will be available—eternal life.

Psalm 133:1-3, NET

The dew and oil analogies are linked by the word “flow.” There is something about unity among brothers that is like the way anointing oil flowed over a priest or dew flows down a mountain. I spent the past week studying this, and here’s what I’ve found so far. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about this psalm in the comments!

Oil

The anointing that this psalm speaks of is recorded in Leviticus 8 and Exodus 29, though only the Leviticus passage records the oil being poured rather than just sprinkled (Ex. 29:1, 4, 21; Lev. 8:1-2, 20).

Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. … He then poured some of the anointing oil on the head of Aaron and anointed him to consecrate him.

Leviticus 9:10, 12 NET

In this context, oil is used for consecration; to put something or someone “into the realm of God’s holy things” (NET footnote on Lev. 8:10). That’s what’s happening in the scene that David described when he was explaining true unity among brothers. The “brothers” in this psalm could refer siblings, of course, but in scripture “brothers” tends to be a phrase used to describe a group of people connected by belief in God (see, for example, Acts 2:29, 37; Rom 12:1; James 5:7-12). The familial unity we’re looking for here operates on a physical and a spiritual level.

Unity among physical and spiritual family members is connected to holiness and to priesthood. Indeed, Peter tells the New Testament church that God is building all of us up together “to be a holy priesthood” and that we are chosen as a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). God wants us to be holy, to be united, and to be part of His “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6; Rev. 1:6; 5:10).

Dew

When David talks about the “dew of Hermon,” geographically he’s referring to Mount Hermon located in “the distant north” relative to “the hills of Zion” (NET footnote on Ps 133:3). Typically, Mount Hermon is used in the Bible as a landmark (Deut. 3:8-9; Josh. 11:3, 17; 1 Chr. 5:23) and we don’t have much information about why David chose it as the mountain to mention in this Psalm. Given Mount Hermon’s location, it’s unlikely that dew which formed there would make it to Zion. This leaves us with a bit of a puzzle.

Thankfully for us, David gives us a clue how we’re supposed to interpret dew in this passage by saying the locations he mentions are “where the Lord has decreed a blessing will be available.” Connecting dew (an important source of water for plants and animals, and by extension people) with blessing is fairly common in scripture (Gen. 27:28; Deut. 33:13; Zech. 8:12). Conversely, holding back dew was a punishment (2 Sam. 1:21; 1 Kings 17:1; Hag. 1:9-10).

Your dead will come back to life;
your corpses will rise up.
Wake up and shout joyfully, you who live in the ground!
For you will grow like plants drenched with the morning dew,
and the earth will bring forth its dead spirits.

Isaiah 26:19, NET

As we can see in this and the other scriptures I linked to, dew is connected with blessings and growth. God even promises to “be like the dew to Israel;” healing and helping them grow and thrive (Hos. 14:4-6, NET). Unity fits into all this as well, helping the blessings that God gives like dew to flow out to more and more people.

Blessings that Flow

The blessings that come from brothers living together in unity don’t just stay in one relationship, or one family, or even one church group. They flow and spread like consecrating oil and growth-enabling dew. Unity is a good, excellent, valuable (H2896, tob), pleasant, delightful, and sweet (H5273, na’iym). It’s something precious; something which we grow into.

to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

Ephesians 4:12-13, NET

We ought to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thes. 3:12, NET. Also Phil. 1:9). Like the holiness of a priest ought to result in service to the congregation and the dew which waters the ground ought to result in growth, so ought the relationships between believers result in unity, peace, and love that grows and spreads.

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

2 thoughts on “Psalm 133: Unity Like Oil and Dew

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